1940s – Rumba, Swing

In the 1940s, the Rumba and Swing dances developed among American middle classes; they also caught on in Europe.

Significant dances

A Cuban dance merging African and Latin styles, the Rumba is a courting dance. With small steps in a confined space, a sensual roll of the hips created a dance of passionate appeal. The rumba was first brought to the U.S. in the 1930s; in the 1940s it was accepted as a popular provocative ballroom dance. The seductive Latin rhythms made it a favorite as a soothing counterpoint to the turbulence of the war years.

Swing was a white, middle class adaptation of Jitterbug/Lindy. Acrobatic throws, while still impressive, were simplified; the syncopated rhythm of the footwork and the elasticity of the couple’s dancing relationship remained. Popular Big Band leaders Benny Goodman and Glen Miller helped spread swing’s popularity. The Big Band Era became the Swing Era.

Jazz dances by artists at the Savoy including James Berry, Pepsi Bethel, Teddy Brown, Sandra Gibson, Leon James, Al Minns and Frankie Manning spearheaded this movement. The dances developed as “Jazz” were inspired by the Cakewalk and Charleston, Black Bottom, Susie Q, Shake Blues, Gutbucket Blues, Trunky Doo, Big Apple and Lindy Hop, and the improvisational syncopated music that electrified audiences.

Historical context

  • The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, prompting the US to enter WWII; Japanese Americans are interned.
  • US Presidents are FDR and Truman.
  • U.N. General Assembly and Atomic Energy Commission are formed.
  • Atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima; Japan surrenders. WWII ends in 1945.
  • Gandhi is assassinated


  • Sartre, Cocteau, Hesse, de Beauvoir, Thurber, O’ Neill, Fromm, and Dr. Spock.


  • European composers move to the U.S.: Stravinsky, Bartok, Shostakovich.
  • Bernstein, Menotti, Duke Ellington, Rogers and Hart, and Billie Holliday produce popular hits.

Visual arts:

  • Kandinsky, Giacometti, Henry Moore
  • Jackson Pollock has first one-man show.
  • National Gallery of Art opens in Washington.
  • Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart, and Humphrey Bogart are popular actors.
  • Casablanca, Gentleman’s Agreement, and Hitchcock thrillers are Hollywood’s hits.


  • Enrico Fermi achieves the first nuclear chain reaction,
  • First computer, long-playing record, magnetic recording tape, transistor, and Xerox machine are invented

Daily life:

  • FDR freezes wages and prices to prevent inflation.
  • U.S. rations sugar, gas, shoes, meat, etc.
  • Veterans given free college education.
  • First Kinsey Report is published; sex is studied objectively.
  • The “Zoot suit” becomes popular attire for “hepcats.”

Relevant Dancetime Publications DVDs

DANCETIME DVD! 500 YEARS OF SOCIAL DANCE, Volume II: 20th Century: Rumba, Swing, Jazz


TAP DANCE HISTORY: From Vaudeville to Film

GERMAN LINEAGE IN MODERN DANCE: Solos by Wigman * Hoyer * Holm * Nikolais * Louis

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